The Scottish tycoon and former JJB Sports chief executive Christopher Ronnie was dubbed “greedy” today as he was sentenced to four years in jail and banned as a company director for fraud.
His behaviour was upbraided as a “flagrant and disgraceful breach of your duties as the CEO of a public limited company” by Judge Nicholas Loraine-Smith at Southwark Crown Court in London.
The charismatic businessman was found guilty last month of a £1m fraud to cover debts and buy a holiday home in Florida when he was at the helm of JJB Sports in 2008.
The court heard that Ronnie, 52, was £11m in debt to the Icelandic bank Kaupthing Singer & Friedlander when he took money from two suppliers to the since-collapsed retailer. He then lied about his assets and liabilities when the bank demanded the money.
In a scathing speech directed at the former retail boss, the judge said: “Over a period of nine months they [the suppliers] gave you just under £1m. You hid the fact they had paid you because you wanted to keep your position as CEO and keep the money, and spend it as you did, mainly on the house.”
Ronnie had tried to divert attention from the evidence by telling police he was a victim of a “witch-hunt”, the court heard.
Two of Ronnie’s business partners, David Ball, 54, and David Barrington, 52, were each sentenced to 18 months in prison for helping him cover his tracks.
Prosecuting the three fraudsters cost the British taxpayer £630,000, including more than £500,000 on Ronnie’s case alone.
The Cheshire-based businessman was chief executive of JJB Sports between August 2007 and March 2009. He received the payments in 2008 but failed to declare them to the JJB board.
His company, Seacroft, received £650,000 in February 2008 from a supplier, Performance Brands. That June, he received $380,000 from another supplier, Fashion and Sport. A third payment, again from Fashion and Sport, was made to Ronnie later that year, this time of $250,000.
Ball and Barrington covered up emails relating to the loans and asked a computer engineer to wipe any trace of the emails, the court heard. But the engineer was so concerned that he contacted the Serious Fraud Office.
Ronnie was convicted of three counts of fraud and two of furnishing false information and was banned from being a company director for eight years.
His defence lawyer, Jim Sturman QC, said the self-made businessman went from being able to raise £190m on the market to fund his stake in JJB to being a man “broken financially”.
JJB collapsed under a £150m debt pile in 2012 and 160 shops subsequently shut, costing 3,500 jobs after sales plunged in the face of strong competition from Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct.Reuse content